As a music critic, it’s my solemn duty to take potshots at the Grammys whenever they’re guilty of bad taste, which is pretty much all of the time. However, sometimes this dubious sense of what’s good and what’s not works in the Grammys’ favor. This applies most often to the artist collaborations that inevitably make up a significant portion of the talent roster every year.
You know the drill: The Grammys love to take artists from different genres and generations, who would never otherwise appear together, and mash them up. The reasoning here can’t be disputed: If you really want to see, say, Jay-Z, Linkin Park, and Paul McCartney share a stage, this is literally the only show on network television that would dare to put that on.
The obvious downside to this methodology is that artists who have nothing in common often don’t actually belong together, especially on live television after minimal rehearsals. The potential for disaster is high.
It’s worth noting that sometimes these collaborations do work, particularly if there’s some sort of logic driving them. Putting Tina Turner and Beyonce together made sense. Kanye West performing with Daft Punk also made sense. Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar, no matter their diverging critical reputations, complemented each other. Even that Jay-Z/Linkin Park/Paul McCartney collaboration worked better on TV than it would appear on paper.
And then there are the collaborations that simply don’t work at all. At the 47th annual Grammys in 2005, my favorite non-working collaborations occurred. It started with a bracingly unoriginal idea: Let’s pay tribute to the Beatles! But how? The Grammys decided to assemble a mismatched group of famous musicians: Bono, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, Brian Wilson, Alicia Keys, Billie Joe Armstrong, Alison Krauss, Steven Tyler, Tim McGraw and Scott Weiland. And then they pushed that crew out on stage, with the backing of mid-’00s rock supergroup Velvet Revolver, and had them sing a woefully under-rehearsed rendition of “Across The Universe.”
The result is the worst, and also the best, Grammy collaboration ever. Let’s walk through it.
:01: Anthony LaPaglia is tapped to do the introduction. I understand that CBS’ intention was to give the star of the extremely CBS-sounding crime drama Without A Trace some shine, but I prefer to believe that they were banking on the leading man of Empire Records giving what we’re about to see some real rock and roll credibility.
:14: What stands out immediately before anyone starts singing is that Steven Tyler is playing maracas and the sound engineer has opted to place them relatively high in the mix. This doesn’t bode well. The Beatles never put maracas on the original “Across The Universe.” The Grammys should have paid tribute to the Beatles generally avoiding maracas.
:26: Bono is the first to sing, and he’s struggling to keep pace with the sluggish backbeat provided by Matt Sorum, who is sabotaging this performance just as he did the Use Your Illusion albums. (Velvet Revolver is the backing band! Because Velvet Revolver was huge in ’05! Because the mid-’00s occurred in 1998.) This isn’t my favorite Bono era — he unwisely resurrected his brown mullet from the Under The Red Sky period and added some red wrap-around shades. He looks like one of the announcers from The Hunger Games. Wikipedia reminds me that U2 won Album of the Year the following year for How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, beating out Kanye West’s Late Registration. Twitter was created the following month just so people could complain incessantly about this sort of thing in the future.